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Beyond the Sun

Take off from Earth, learning new technologies and staking claims in far-flung planets in this worker placement and resource management game from first-time designer Dennis K. Chan.

Gameplay

Beyond the Sun is a 2-4 player game where players are advancing technologies and skills via a tech tree to gain resources and explore planets for victory points. Each player will take on one of the four factions of the game, conglomerates of historical significance and corporate strengths. Players will begin with a set number of ore and population, as well as resource cubes and discs that will aid them in gaining influence over certain sectors of outer space and ramp up resource production. Players will also have one hexagonal pawn, which serves as the sole worker that players will use to perform actions throughout the game. 

The game has two main boards: the technology tree where the heart of the game’s actions will take place, and the space board where players will place ships and navigate to ports and planets to assert their influence and gain bonuses. 

The actions during a turn are simple (though there are a few of them): move the pawn to available action spaces, pay the resource cost (population and/or ore), do the action(s), move any corresponding resource discs to space or the automation track on the player board, and possibly explore space. Players then choose to produce either more population from the resource cube columns on their player boards or to collect ore. They may also swap population cubes for ore. As players begin to shed more resource discs from their population and ore production lines, they will be able to produce more of each during the production phase. Resource cubes also create the spaceships necessary to explore the space board. 

The tech tree board begins with four Level I technologies, each of a different color that represents an effect that will benefit resource production, exploration, population expansion, and further tech tree exploration. Play begins with four actions available, with the number of spaces in those actions dependent on player count. Players will move their pawn into a space and complete the action. Some will be as simple as producing resources while others will allow players to explore the tech tree and gain new actions. To advance up the tech tree and see higher levels, players will need to place their pawns on corresponding spaces, have a population, and then they can see the event and select a new technology to put in the space. Events are largely helpful and keep the game advancing, whether it’s unlocking new spaces on the leftmost side of the board (as a representation of Earth actions) or allowing players to begin checking out the other levels of the tech tree. To advance tech tree levels, players must also meet the requirements of known technologies as well. For example, certain spaces in levels II, III, and IV will require two techs from the previous level that merge into it to be discovered. When a new technology is discovered, the player who first discovers it will look at the two colors from the preceding technologies and draw from the deck for that respective level they are discovering. Once they draw two cards matching one or both of the preceding colors, they will pick which one to place on the board and which to place back into the deck. As more technologies and the higher levels are discovered, the more points players will earn at the end of the game.

The space board is where space exploration takes place. Unlike the tech tree board, the main actions on the space board are to navigate to space ports and planets. Planet cards will allow players to place resource discs — in the form of population and/or ore — onto them. It will also allow players to place their ships, which are created from the resource cubes on their boards by carrying out specific actions on the tech tree, onto these spaces to gain influence. Much like the technologies on the tech tree board advance in levels, so do ships. The higher one’s ship level (ranging from 1-4), the more influence they wield on a planet or port. This also allows resource discs to be placed to show who has control over the space. If a player meets the threshold of influence on a planet card, they get to claim the planet card and utilize its bonus. These cards are also worth points at the end of the game. 

As the game progresses, players must be mindful of one of the four end game conditions in the displayed goal cards. As a player reaches one of these milestones, they must place a disc into the corresponding slot. Once the threshold of placements has been met (varied depending on the player count -- from 4 to 6 claimed spots), then the game ends. Players will add the points from achieving goals, the number of the technologies discovered, places controlled in space, colonized planets, earned points from the automation track on the player board, and any event bonuses that are discovered during the game. The player with the most points is declared the winner.

Beyond the Sun

Review

There is no mistaking Beyond the Sun as pushing the limits of casual games. Despite some of its heft, it is a game that can be enjoyed by casual gamers. There are a lot of actions that players will undertake during a turn, but after the initial teach of the game, actions happen quickly and furiously. The first game may take a bit longer, but two player games take no more than 45 minutes and three player games coming in closer to 60-75 minutes once people are familiar with the game's basic mechanics.

There is a lot to manage while playing the game, which will bog down some players. The pawn movement is self-explanatory and anyone who has played an RPG video game in the last 25 years will be familiar with the basics of navigating the tech tree board. And the board, with its simplistic but sleek design, will make any curious or would-be board gamer want to try the game. But the player boards, where resource cubes and discs are managed, can be a bit fiddly and frustrate novice board gamers drawn to the game’s theme and tech tree mechanics. 

Yet Beyond the Sun rewards patience. Teaching the game is not difficult despite the myriad actions and game components players must keep track of. The gameplay walks people through the actions and choices effectively. Likewise, the technologies and their actions are cut and dry. There is no confusing symbology, language, or decisions. Dennis K. Chan’s design goes to great lengths to let players set up the game and play within minutes, building in the tutorial within the gameplay itself. The best way to learn the game is to play it. 

You will be doing a lot of that once you dig in. Between the available technologies, the planet cards, and factions, players will want to explore all the options and trajectories the game has to offer. As players become more comfortable and knowledgeable, there are faction boards that offer asymmetrical player powers for further challenges and strategizing as well as an expert tableau mode from uncovering technology cards. 

This is the beauty of Beyond the Sun. At its heart, it feels like a casual game due to its pop culture touchstones and the bare bones simplicity despite the complexity inherent in each player’s turn. However, the game will take players of all experience levels by the hand and guide them through until actions become second nature. Beyond the Sun also comes packed with variability and expert variants that keep the game intriguing for long-time gamers but accessible enough to bring to a game night where new and beginning players can have fun and marvel at the cool design. In an era where space games offer a lot of complexity (On Mars, Terraforming Mars, etc.) and lock out casual gamers looking for adjacent experiences, Beyond the Sun is that bridge.

Pros: Game is taught as play begins, beautiful design and components, gameplay variability

Cons: Player boards and components are fiddly